Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chris Slane Book Signing!

Chris Slane has a great new cartoon collection 'Blokes, Jokes and Sheds' out this month from Random House, which takes a humorous and affectionate look at that enduring kiwi icon of male sanctuary: the shed.

To celebrate it's release, Chris will be in-store at Whitcoulls Corner, 210 Queen St for a book signing this Wednesday 2nd of September, from 12.30 - 1.30pm.

Above: A cartoon from 'Blokes, Jokes & Sheds'. Copyright Chris Slane 2009.

If you attended the talk he gave at last month's Auckland Comic Book Club you'll already be familiar with the high quality of his cartoons, which are both extremely funny and beautifully rendered.

So please come down and meet the author himself, see some of his original artwork and get yourself a signed copy of the book! (it also makes a swell Father's Day present;).


Friday, August 28, 2009

The James Jean Experience Part 2: The Interview

Above: From the 'Kindling' collection: 'Vanity', Oil and Pastel on Rives BFK, 29 x 41", 2008. Copyright James Jean 2009.

At only 29 it's staggering to consider the impact James Jean has had on the illustration and comics world in such a short time. He's won six consecutive Eisner Awards for Best Cover Artist since the start of his career in 2004, a feat unmatched by any other artist.

In the wake of winning many other accolades, he has moved on from comics and advertising to concentrate on more personal work, creating his first solo exhibition 'Kindling'. The body of work has since been exhibited in New York, Auckland and Melbourne, and collected in a 12 print portfolio from Chronicle Books.

I met James on his recent visit to Auckland, unfortunately it turned out to be impossible for us to find a spare moment to conduct an interview with him during his short visit. However he very graciously suggested an email interview when he returned to the US. So he's James Jean on the creation of 'Kindling'.

AK: To start off, how was your New Zealand visit? I know the exhibition went extremely well (standing room only). You had previously exhibited 'Kindling' in New York; how did you find the reaction to the show here?

JJ: New Zealand was great, though I wish I had more time there -- the food especially was terrific. I hadn't planned on exhibiting anything until Semi-Permanent suggested that I show some prints along with the signing. I really had no expectations . . . I think I saw more people there than anywhere else in Auckland.

AK: I understand 'Kindling' is you first solo exhibition. When you started producing this series were there any particular themes or imagery you were interested in exploring?

JJ: I didn't go into the body of work with a set theme. The work evolved naturally. But in retrospect, I can say that there is a connecting thread of memory and games. The fantasy element in the work is a bit nostalgic, while the characters interact and play out their desires through series of games.

AK: There's a paragraph on the back of the folio that kind of ties the narratives of the paintings together as a unified fable. Did you plan for the paintings to have an over-aching narrative relationship to each other, or is it more of a loose association?

JJ: It's definitely more of a loose association. It's interesting to try to connect the pieces together after they are done, to see the subconscious themes running through the work. The pleasure is in the surprise associations that happen when everything is finished.

AK: I associated the title 'Kindling' with the german word for children, 'Kinder'. Many of the painting in the series feature children, at play and in fantastical fairy-tale settings. I was curious if this series was about exploring certain aspects of childhood?

JJ: It's more about memories and the origin of our desires. I was interested in seeing how these characters would play and interact in that world that could evoke some feelings of loss and longing. For this particular body of work, children seemed to be a natural way to shepherd the viewer into this world.

Above: From the 'Kindling' collection: 'Toymaker', Oil on Rives BFK, 41 x 90", 2008. Copyright James Jean 2009.

AK: Along these lines, I felt there was also a very strong under current of folk-lore and fables mixed in with the childhood themes. Not necessarily references to specific fables, but suggesting some of the dark duality present in those early versions of well known fables. For example 'Toymaker' has a playful touch to it, but could also be quite sinister. 'The Willow 4 and 5' paintings particularly, have a very Brothers Grimm/cautionary tale feel to them. Are early fables and folk-lore stories a particular interest of yours, or is it more the imagery they suggest that you find interesting?

JJ: Certainly, I draw inspiration from fables and folklore. I'm interested in how these stories reveal the deepest elements of human nature. The best stories seem to be the darkest and most tragic. But since we can transform and communicate that darkness into art, the beauty of the resulting work completes this dichotomy of experience.

AK: To move to the technical side of the painting: what is your process of creating a painting from initial idea to finished piece (and how long does the painting stage take once you've decided on the composition?).

JJ: Usually, I'll create a small sketch from which I'll create the larger work. The work for Kindling was done from more tightly drawn sketches, but the paintings I'm doing now are more spontaneous, done with little planning. The painting stage can be as quick as a week to as long as 6 months. Sometimes I need to let a painting rest for a while before I can revisit it with fresh eyes.

AK: From reading your blog I understand your preference is to work in oils, but you're also equally accomplished at colouring/painting digitally. Do you have to make any adjustments to your working methods when painting digitally, or is it just using different tools to accomplish the same result?

JJ: It's different tools for different results. I enjoy the range of effects I can achieve with all sorts of different media. I'm interested in the whole spectrum of drawing and painting -- hopefully that's evident in the range of my work.

AK: What's your daily working routine like? (ie. do you have set studio hours during the week, or is it more loose?).

JJ: There's never a routine; everyday presents new challenges in running my business and in life. However, I don't think I spend enough time in the studio.

Above: An illustration created for Prada. Copyright Prada 2009.

AK: I think it's been almost two years since you finished illustrating full-time for clients to focus on more personal work. Has it been a freeing experience, not having to worry about clients and deadlines hanging over you, or do you miss the routine of regular deadlines?

JJ: Actually, it was comforting to have the deadlines, though the volume of work eventually drove me crazy. My web store has also experienced consistent growth over the years, and now it's doing well enough that I don't need to take on any commissions. The projects I'm working on now feel much more important, and the work is also getting much better. I also have a 5 project deal with Chronicle Books, which is keeping me pretty busy.

Above: An early cover for 'Batgirl', written by NZ writer Dylan Horrocks, 2004. Copyright DC Comics 2009.

AK: You started out doing covers for DC Comics in 2004, but soon picked up some very high profile advertising clients. I imagine the pay for some of those jobs would have been substantially more than you were making on comics covers, but despite that you stayed on 'Fables' for a lengthy run. 'Fables' looked like a very comfortable fit for you creatively, I was wondering if that was a factor in you staying with the title for that length of time, when perhaps you didn't need to financially?

JJ: I enjoyed working on Fables. The book was a kind of "showcase" of my work every month that provided a comfortable place to experiment with different graphic ideas. Since I had worked on the title for some time, I felt like I had considerable freedom in what I wanted to create. Also, the original art I had done for the series became quite sought after. The advertising world is much more lucrative, but it can be hell dealing with so many art directors at the same time.
Above: The Fables Covers Collection, designed by James Jean. Copyright DC Comics 2009.

AK: Apart from your covers work, you also illustrated a short story for the 'Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall' graphic novel. Do you have any plans in the future to tackle a longer comics or illustrated narrative? Would you be interested in writing and illustrating your own project?

JJ: A long form story book is something that I plan to do one day. However, I'm not a good cartoonist. My work is much more suited to single images.

Above: The cover of 'Process Recess Vol. 3'. Copyright James Jean 2009.

AK: Speaking of future projects, do you have any other new works/projects coming up that we should keep an eye out for?

JJ: My next book, Process Recess vol. 3 with be coming out in September! It will collect drawings from my sketchbooks. It's a very personal collection of purely observational studies. It's probably the strongest book I've done to date. In addition to my paintings, I'm also working on a variety of exciting objects that will be unveiled this next year.


Thanks to James Jean for his time, and don't forget to visit his website and his Process Recess blog for more information on his artwork and published work!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The James Jean Experience Part 1

Eisner award-winning artist James Jean (cover artist of 'Fables', 'The Umbrella Acadamy' and many more) was briefly in the country this month as a guest speaker at the Semi-Permanent design conference held in Auckland. He is arguably one of the most popular and influential artist/illustrators on the planet right now, having worked for major clients including: Prada, Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Atlantic Records and many more.

While he was here he also exhibited prints from his first solo exhibition 'Kindling', at an exclusive engagement at Plaything Gallery. The opening was shared with Misery's 'Heart of Misery' exhibition, which I'll report on as a separate review.
Although Misery's work covered two thirds of the gallery, the visitors had clearly come in mass to see James' ethereal visions up close, and they weren't disappointed. In fact, a better description of the opening would be an art-lover's Big Day Out! It was crammed to capacity with a crowd covering every aspect of the art scene from advertising folk to artists, designers, students, comic fans, punks and art scene rubberneckers (on that note I apologise for some of the not-so-focused photos, there was barely room to raise an arm at times, but it should give you an idea of the turnout).
While the art on show were limited edition signed prints and not the originals themselves, his fluid renderings of mischievous children at play in a dreamscape of surreal imagery were no less arresting. His lyrical line work pays tribute to the fine lines of traditional Japanese prints with a touch of Salvador Dali's sense of the surreal for good measure. It's easy to see why he would have felt at home producing covers for DC/Vertigo's 'Fables'; many of his paintings are playful meditations of childhood innocence infused with a undercurrent of cautionary folk-lore.

'Kindling' has recently been published as a 12 print portfolio from Chronicle books, and copies were available on the night for $90nz (it's available now for $29.95us, ISBN:978-0811870399). Despite the steep cover price, they sold like hot-cakes to eager fans looking to get a copy signed by the man himself. Once Jean arrived for the signing, the room gravitated in his direction, completely submerging him for the rest of the evening until every book was signed, and fan greeted.
Once you squeezed your way into his presence, he was extremely warm and personable to his fans, taking the time to sign everything that was handed to him, posing for photographs and drawing quick sketches in every copy of the 'Kindling' collection.
Taking a look at the exhibition now, the eight signed prints displayed were on sale for a recession friendly $1100 (no doubt coming to an ad agency reception wall near you).

Above: 'Maze', Mixed Media on Paper, 29 x 41", 2008. Copyright James Jean 2009.

The first print 'Maze' acts as a good introduction to this series: an innocent portrayal of children at play, with a hint of mystery provided by the 'maze' hulahoop.

Above: 'Willow (Horse)', Acrylic & Oil Canvas, 60 x 72", 2008. Copyright James Jean 2009.

The next piece 'Willow (Horse)' appears to explore one of his many reoccurring themes: the exploration of form, using one form of organic life to represent another (the last print 'Hive' deals with a variation of this theme). The subdued colour palette and flowing organic shapes and lines strongly recalls the influence of traditional Chinese scroll paintings. The coloured thread flowing through the painting also reoccurs throughout the 'Kindling' series. In the print collection it acts as an umbilical cord connecting the prints from cover to back page.

Above: 'Exit Eden', Digital, 30 x 36" @ 300dpi, 2009. Copyright James Jean 2009.

'Exit Eden' was created as a three-piece design for a series of skateboard decks for Giant Robot (cut the paintings into thirds to get an idea of the deck designs). You can check out Jame's creation of the design over on his blog, where he describes his inspiration behind the image:

'Skating has always seemed to me a courageous activity, and what is courage but an absence of shame. Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, pitiful in their nakedness, shameful in their new knowledge. However, the rise of science made man and nature transparent, naked again under a microscope and scalpel. We adorn ourselves with knowledge, hiding our private selves under a crimson web, until a bad fall shreds it to the bone.'
Like the last print in this series 'Hive', it plays with the internal and external forms and designs of human anatomy. On a brief comics side note, I really dig the male figure's solid Kirby-like feet!

Above: 'Willow 4' and 'Willow 5', Mixed Media and Digital, 22 x 30", 2007. Copyright James Jean 2009.

The next two prints (the largest of the show), 'Willow 4' and 'Willow 5' really bring out Jean's fairy-tale sensibility, with this sinister Brothers Grimm style narrative. I suspected this might be part of some larger narrative sequence, and you can check out the rest of the series at Jean's website. 'Willow 4' shows child-like creatures at play with (or are they they victimising?) a Willow Tree spirit/nymph. Things have obviously taken a nasty turn in 'Willow 5', and it's up to an old woodsman to put the Willow Tree to rest permanently (in very small pieces..ouch).

Above: 'Excavation', Oil and Acrylic on Two Canvases, 60 x 40", 2009. Copyright James Jean 2009.

The next piece 'Excavation', is one of my favourites (and unfortunately isn't in the 'Kindling' portfolio). It combines some of the themes explored in the previous pieces in a more relaxed way, with a more sophisticated result. The painting in general feels looser; the organic line-work is off-set nicely by a less finished, more textured background.
The hound figures reflect the internal/external theme again, but the soft focus, translucent approach to the forms seems far more successful in provoking a visual response. It's an atmospheric piece, that really lingers with you in a way the others don't.

Above: 'Wave 2', Acrylic on Paper, 25.5 x 30", 2009. Copyright James Jean 2009.

'Wave 2' is a wonderful example of art nouveau illustration, but is an odd inclusion for this show. Apart from featuring a young boy, it doesn't really tie-in with this series at all.

Above: 'Hive', Mixed Media on Paper, 29 x 41", 2008. Copyright James Jean 2009.

The last print 'Hive', again returns to the theme of internal vs external, and the mixture of organic forms. The floral internal organs are beautifully detailed and finished within this cherub-like 'David' (...with hammer in hand. Hey, the bees need their honey!). I guess you could say there's some conversation in this piece about life and death, with the bees etc, but that seems a little obvious, so I'll let you decide.

I definitely feel this series is Jean making his transition from illustrator to fine artist, and doing so successfully in a way few popular artists manage.

For more of James Jean's astonishing artwork check out his website and his informative blog: Process Recess. He's also started producing some abstract pieces that I think are really moving his work in a new direction, so be sure to check those out! Be sure to also check out Plaything Gallery on their Tumblr page and catch a video of the show.

Coming soon in Part 2: An exclusive interview with James Jean on 'Kindling'!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The surreal world of Tim Molloy

Above: 'Entering the City' by Tim Molloy. Copyright Tim Molloy 2009.

Chances are if you've being following NZ comics for the last 10 years you're bound to own some comics created by Tim Molloy.

He regularly produced comics for 'Craccum' magazine in the first half of the decade and self-published a variety of comics including: 'Poot', 'Endless Plain', 'Mr Unpronounceable' and my personal favourite title: 'The Ground! It Rushes Upwards!'.
Above: 'Untitled' by Tim Molloy. Copyright Tim Molloy 2009.

Tim's comics often contrast the surreal with the mundane; inviting you into a world of imagery and symbolism that is at once comfortably familiar and completely alien at the same time. Slice of life stories that take place in a foreign world you don't recognise, but with characters who's actions and motivations are very recognisably human.

In recent years he's built up a formidable visual language of his own, which he is now using to re-imagine bible stories, reinterpreting them through his own unique symbolism as seen above in the stunning 'Entering the City' (a reinterpretation of Jesus entering Jerusalem, known as 'Palm Sunday').

Tim has just started a new blog: 'In The City Of The Ever Open Eye', where you can view his latest work, and you can also follow him at his deviantart page. So go check it out and take a unique (head)trip to a completely different, but excellent comics frequency.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

A quick stop at Auckland Zinefest '09

Amongst the zines on offer at the Auckland Zinefest this past weekend there were a couple off New Zealand comics vying for punter attention. Jerome Bihan, editor of the 'Fleet FM Radio as Paper' comics anthology was there with copies of his new solo effort 'Pig'.
'Pig' introduces us to a cartoonist who is taking a great deal of sadistic pleasure from his waster comics adaptation of 'Romeo & Juliet', until his own love life reveals itself to be equally tragic and pathetic. It features some great characterization; the lead character Peter, appears to almost tick on the page with restless energy as he waits for his instant noodles to microwave.
Above: A page from 'Pig'. Copyright Jerome Bihan 2009.

The pacing is also equally strong, with a regulated four panel grid breaking up Peter's moment to moment actions and thoughts. The style of storytelling reminds me a little of Alex Robinson's 'Box Office Poison', and should appeal to the same readership. It's an economical 13 pages, but neatly sets itself up the story for future chapters. At only $4 bucks it's well worth your golden pennies.

Above: Jerome Bihan selling his wares next to the DMC booth (on the red table).

Jeremy Bishop, DMC publisher of 'New Ground', was also there with their new volume 11, featuring an eye-catching cover from the always excellent Roger Langridge.

With the 'New Ground' series, Jeremy has offered young up-and-coming NZ cartoonists the chance to put pen to paper and see their work professionally printed, which is a great initiative and deserves to be commended.
This issue features stories by: James Davidson, Donald Snelling & Justin Lane, Robin Hotter & CJ Alvarez, Steve Saville, Jeremy Bishop & Tuku Wiki-Pasene, Thomas Arthur Bailey and S.J. McClearly & Kelly-Marie.

Above: Jeremy Bishop at the DMC booth.

While not all the featured content is that polished, that's kind of the idea here. It gives young people passionate about making comics the opportunity to put some of their work out there without spending a king's ransom to see it in print. It's a great improvement on my generation, who had to take over the photocopier at our parents' offices across the nation to see out results printed (staples not included!). So if you have a budding cartoonist in the family that you want to encourage, give them a copy of 'New Ground'. If they're not overwhelmed by what's inside, challenge them to do better in the next issue.

If you would like to submit a story or artwork for a future issue of 'New Ground', you can contact the publisher at:


Friday, August 14, 2009

High Seas, Ahoy!

Auckland's newest popular culture bookstore/gallery space has arrived in the form of 'The High Seas'.

Foundered by Nigel Wright and Sophie Oiseau, here's their description of the space:
"The High Seas is a space in Auckland, which is comprised of a gallery / bookshop / record store and music venue.
While we are open to a broad range of contemporary art, our focus is in showcasing local comic, illustration and design artists producing material that is outside the mainstream forms of these practices. Providing a bookshop furthers this focus by stocking a selection of comics, graphic novels, art books and zines from local and international artists. Our bookshop also welcomes contributions.

Alongside the visual art, we stock a wide range of innovative and experimental audio, mostly from New Zealand practitioners.We work closely with the Audio Foundation and stock a range of music that until now has rarely been available in stores. The High Seas is also a space for musicians, sound artists and film makers to perform their work."

It had it's grand opening last Friday featuring the exhibition 'Draw III'.

The Draw exhibition series involves 'artists who use drawing as an idea gathering tool, an exploration of technique and narrative and as a medium in itself'. Featured artists include: Chris Cudby, Sophie Watson, Steve Fowke, Emily Cater, AAron Cole, Aleksandra Petrovic and Nikolai Zhivago Clarke. I recommend checking it out; Sophie Watson's dream-like watercolours are particularly captivating. The exhibition runs till the 30th of August.

Above: artwork from 'Draw III'.

They currently stock a great range of small-press comics and zines, including comics and graphic novels by Jason, Tony Millionaire, Michael Kupperman, David Shrigley, Tom Gauld, Dame Darcy, Gary Panter, Leah Hayes, David B., Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Ken Kagami, Joann Sfar, Tove Jannson and many more. There's also some local work available like 'Radio as Paper' and even some hard-to-find hardcover copies of Chris Slane's 'Maui' Graphic novel.

So if you're in Auckland, go check it out. The store is located at: 1/12-14 Beresford Square, just of K Road.
For store hours and more information visit their website and blog. You can also join their Facebook page for updates.
Sophie Oiseau also has a great blog: 'Confetti Yeti', where you can check out her artwork and other creative ventures.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Auckland Comic book Club August: Frank Gibson

Above: A page from 'Tiny Kitten Teeth'. Copyright Frank & Becky.

This month's guest speaker is Frank Gibson, writer of the webcomics Tiny Kitten Teeth and Combustible Orange.

Created with Becky, his significant other on art duties, Tiny Kitten Teeth 'follows the slice-of-life adventures of Mewsli, a fish out of water in Owltown, a compact metropolis built around a particularly affluent arts college'. It's updated daily and each page is painstakingly hand painted in gouache (now that's dedication for you!).
It's a beautiful piece of comics eye-candy and is well worth checking out!

Frank's talk will focus on webcomics, and he'll also be talking about self-publishing and his experiences selling on

the US comic convention circuit from San Diego Comic Con to smaller indie conventions like MOCCA.

The meeting will take place at the Whare Wananga room on the 2nd floor of the Auckland Central City Library,

from 6pm to 8pm this Friday the 14th of August.